PUBLISHED: 00:16 26 December 2011 | UPDATED: 20:28 20 February 2013
Top Gear star Richard Hammond tells Anthony Pearce how he combines life in the fast lane with the quiet life at his Herefordshire castle – and why Jeremy Clarkson won't be moving here anytime soon
A Jeep xplodes, a helicopter sweeps by and paintball pellets crash against the windscreen of a Porsche GT3. Inside, Richard Hammond fires the high-powered engine to life, pushing the pedal to floor, speeding away from the carnage behind. Its just your standard scene from Top Gear At The Movies, the cult BBC shows DVD homage to motors in Hollywood, and its just your standard scene from the life of Midlands-born Richard Hammond. Its just another day. Just work isnt it? laughs the 41-year-old presenter.
It may come as some surprise then that the thrill-seeking, car enthusiast one third of the Top Gear brand alongside Jeremy Clarkson and James May favours the tranquility of the countryside. Its here in Herefordshire the presenter has set up home with his wife and daughters, aged eight and 11, in their 2million castle thats right castle away from the hustle and bustle of the city. With more than 20 acres of space, the fairytale home, Bollitree Castle in Weston-under-Penyard, offers ample room for Hammonds ever-expanding fleet of vehicles.
Yes, theres a bit of space ... you could say that, says Hammond. But thats why I live out in the country. I love it. Im very lucky. I spent part of the last weekend at a garage and made sure all my bikes were ready for winter, and I gave them all a last run out before the weather turns. The roads are beautiful where I live, so smooth, he adds, said like the true motor enthusiast that he is.
So much for the quiet life, then. While Hammersmith-based co-presenter James May is stuck with the traffic of the city, Hammond is free to enjoy stunning scenery and fresh air. Im very happy to just pull a bike out and ride around with it. My daughters think Im completely mad and cant stop teasing me about how passionate I am, and how easy to please, but I dont care! he laughs.
However, as president of the Herefordshire Country Fair, Hammonds hardly a city boy lost in the country and its not just wheels and engines hes keen on. I run around; I run a lot. I live opposite some beautiful hills and woods, and theres a five-mile run I do round there, as often as I can. And I really enjoy that.
Part of the countys charm, argues Hammond, is the fact that its not one of those celebrity areas. Its not like the Cotswolds. Thats why I love Herefordshire. Its genuine, its real. The housing stock is dense enough for people who are born here to still afford to live here, so its not entirely populated by retired bankers and politicians.
If I have a party at my house, he says, neglecting to call it a castle, then there are farmers, jam-makers and people who work in local towns. Sure, there might be a banker in there too or a London commuter, but even then you cant commute everyday its a
bit too far, he says.
We love venturing to places like Ross-on-Wye a few stylish restaurants mixed in with shabby chic coffee shops. Im not sure you get that sort of mix everywhere.
That said, it seems unlikely Clarkson wont be relocating from the Cotswolds anytime soon. I wouldnt want him to, retorts Hammond. In fact, I might flee back to London if he strays too far this way!
But with a classic 1968 Mustang 290 GT the car from one of the most famous chase scenes of all time, in the film Bullitt and a Porsche 977 GTS holed up between the castle walls, its something of a wonder he ever wants come off the roads and socialise with the neighbours. Im a big fan of Bullitt actually, he says. Ive owned both of the cars in it; I still have my 1968 Mustang and the car pursuing is a Dodge Charger 68 and I had one
The scene recreated for the DVD, alongside other legendary chases such as the white-knuckle ride from The French Connection Hammond says, is a prime example of the long-standing relationship between motors and the movie industry. It deserves to be examined and, he says, adopting his TV presenter voice, who better to do it than Top Gear?
Featuring a lifetimes fill of exploding vehicles, daredevil stunts, and red-line speeds, it looks somewhat unlikely that this fanatic is going to give up the day job he loves so much. But that wasnt always the case.
In 2006, a Top Gear stunt at an RAF base nearly ended in tragedy after Hammond lost control while bombing across the track in a Vampire dragster the same model that had set the British land speed record at an enormous 300.3 mph.
Its one of lifes experiences, says Hammond, reflecting on the long-term effects of the crash. All experiences change you. Im 41. So having kids changed me, Im sure getting married changed me; things change you in lots of ways, its part of life. I couldnt possibly pin down how the crash changed me, suffice to say I am the sum of my life, arent I? It had an effect on my wife and daughters and, Im sure, my further extended family. But how its changed all of us, I dont know, he adds.
But it did put me off driving for a while. I went through a stage ... I remember really struggling. I knew Id learned in the most graphic, miserable way possible that things can go wrong. It made me nervous for a while, and it still does sometimes. Of course it does, he says pensively.
Yet, watching footage from the new DVD and listening to him talk, youd never know. Hammonds like a dizzy kid when it comes to cars. If you didnt interrupt, he could go on talking about them for hours.
We filmed a monumental chase scene, he says, excitedly, in which I was testing which car was best to escape in from some Bond-esque villain, and tested two cars the Porsche Cayman S and BMW 1M. Which would be the best at outrunning a whole fleet of people pursuing me, on dirt bikes, Wildcats modified for military use and a helicopter? In addition, there were marksmen hiding on top of roofs firing paint balls at me!
Its those sorts of experiences that make the Top Gear thing so worthwhile, and the reason why I felt I had to get back in the car after the crash.
And if ever I need a quiet moment then, in my mind, Ive got the perfect home and the perfect county to find it in. And for as long as Clarkson remains on the other side of the county border, it will stay like that!